Crusaders book semi-final berth
May 14, 2010
The Crusaders' Sean Maitland evades the Brumbies' Rocky Elsom at a misty AMI Stadium
© Getty Images
The Crusaders booked a place in this year's Super 14 semi-finals and a provisional home tie with an emphatic 40-22 victory over the Brumbies in Christchurch.
The Crusaders, sixth on the table going into Friday's game, played at pace and defended stoutly to stifle a Brumbies team who always looked threatening. Playing much of the second half in another Christchurch pea souper, the Crusaders put together a complete performance to break a three-game losing streak and assure themselves of yet another play-offs appearance. Dominant in the set pieces, and with a running game which time and again pierced the Brumbies' defence, the Crusaders win was sealed with some superb defensive work.
Some scrappy Crusaders' play early on was reflected in fly-half Dan Carter's kicking, as he pulled two early penalties wide. The Brumbies capitalised on the let-offs with some sharp running, Adam Ashley-Cooper looking particularly dangerous down the left wing. But it was the Crusaders who opened the scoring after 12 minutes, Daniel Bowden moving the ball wide and Zac Guildford straightening play with a scintillating run before linking with McCaw, whose inside pass found Sean Maitland to touch down.
Carter finally found his kicking boots to add the extras but the Brumbies replied barely five minutes later as the Crusaders lapsed again into the laboured passing that had earlier gifted the Brumbies a couple of intercepts. A hint of offside in both had saved the Crusaders in the opening minutes, but there were no such concerns as Brumbies centre Tyrone Smith latched onto Bowden's looping pass to canter in. Brumbies centre Matt Giteau's conversion made it 7-7, but two tries in 10 minutes to the Crusaders stretched out the lead to 19-7.
No.8 Kieran Read featured in both, showing impressive pace to chase down Guildford's kick ahead and slide over in the tackle, then finding tighthead prop Owen Franks with his final pass after a rampaging run to give the Crusaders their third try. Giteau and Carter traded penalties, and the Crusaders went to the half-time break with a handy 22-10 lead.
The Brumbies began the second half in style, prop Ben Alexander crossing for his seventh try of the season after a move which stretched three-quarters of the paddock, sparked by an elusive run from fullback Julian Huxley. But McCaw restored the margin five minutes later as the Crusaders showed commendable patience and purpose in pounding the Brumbies line, recycling the ball until the gap opened and McCaw was driven over.
A couple of Carter penalties extended the lead, then Guildford was rewarded for an impressive game with his sixth try of the season and just two minutes left on the clock. Replacement hooker Huia Edmonds, on after Stephen Moore was injured early, crossed in injury time for a consolation try and retiring flanker George Smith, given the ball in his last game for the Brumbies, pulled the conversion wide.
The win continued the Crusaders' impressive home record against the Brumbies -- they had won nine of their 17 clashes against the Australians in Christchurch, including two of their three finals.
"I thought we defended pretty well," captain Richie McCaw said on Sky televison afterwards. "It's something we've put a lot of focus on this year, and it's starting to pay dividends. I'm pretty proud of the way the boys went -- the last three weeks have been tough, but this is the right end of the season to play well."
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton